Book Review: Down, out, and under arrest: Policing and everyday life in skid row

Date01 March 2021
AuthorTabetha Griffis Bennett
Published date01 March 2021
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Another overemphasized and misdirected reason for our prison population is the exaggerated
power of the “prison-industrial complex.” Pfaff’s maintains private industry is not the reason for the
explosive growth of our prison population as only 128,000 inmates are housed in private owned
facilities or about 8%of the prison population (p. 81). He writes that the growth is directly connected
to the political powers that benefit from the enlargement of corrections such as elected officials with
prisons in their districts and public sector unions with members who work in the facilities.
In Part II, Pfaff offers a new narrative to counter the standard story, which offers the following
reasons for the buildup of incarceration in our country.
As crime and arrests fell in the 1990s and 2000s, the number of felony cases filed in state courts
rose sharply. The most overlooked actor in the criminal justice system by the standard story is the
prosecutor. During the period of lowering crime and arrest rates, the probability of a prosecutor
filing felony charges against an arrestee basically doubled resulting in an increase of our prison
population (p. 127).
The criminal justice system in our country is a misnomer as it is a series of competing agencies
that make the system seem dysfunctional. The standard story focuses too much on the federal level,
yet 87%of all inmates are housed in state facilities. Pfaff urges a more local examination of criminal
justice power as the 3,144 counties in our country are directly responsible for our prison buildup.
Imagine in 2013, the United States released half of all convicts of property and public-order
crimes, 100%of those in for drug possession, and 75%of those in for drug trafficking. The prison
population would decrease from 1.5 million to 950,000 inmates meaning the vast majority of
inmates are incarcerated for violent crimes (p. 185). Pfaff advocates a changing of our response
to violent crime, which he rightfully characterized as the third rail of politics.
Pfaff devotes the last chapter to advocating for reforms that generally fall within the categories of
political and cultural. The better reforms have already been accomplished at the state level such as
Plea Bargain guidelines in New Jersey and California’s Realignment program that prevent county
prosecutor sending certain felony convicts to state-paid prisons. Other changes are very ambitious as
they require a cultural shift.
Pfaff writes in an engaging manner that is open to all readers. I plan on assigning this book as
required reading for my sociology of law class next semester.
Stuart, F. (2016).
Down, out, and under arrest: Policing and everyday life in skid row. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
333 pp. $30.00, ISBN 978-0-226-37081-1.
Reviewed by: Tabetha Griffis Bennett, NC, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817712357
Utilizing an urban ethnography approach in conducting his resear ch in Down, Out, and Under
Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row, Forrest Stuart took 5 years with anywhere from
15 to 30 hr per week of direct participant observation to gather the necessary data required to draw
his conclusions. Ethnography immerses the researcher in the culture and environment of those he is
attempting to study. For Stuart’s skid row research, he observed mostly public spaces but did venture
into the single-room occupancy hotels, shelters, community organizations, and Central Division
station (police station). He observed and interviewed both police officers and skid row residents.
122 Criminal Justice Review 46(1)

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